Studies on Alcohol and Gambling Highlight Need for More Research

University of Memphis doctoral candidate Tori Horn shocked an audience of gambling industry conference-goers with research showing that serious drinkers believe their drinking makes them better at gambling. She made the comments at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’s 18th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking. The study found that drinkers think alcohol makes them more focused and skilled, leading to more wins.

Conversely, gamblers scoring highest on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) were likely to think mixing gambling and booze is a bad idea. Even so, those with gambling problems also have a “high likelihood” of being at risk for problem drinking.

Horn’s presentation was titled Alcohol Consumption While Gambling: New Evidence Within a Responsible Gambling Framework. While enlightening, it raised as many questions as it answered.

In an interview, Horn told Bonus there is still much to learn about connections between gambling and substance use. But that studies like these provide a baseline.

We were just trying to get an idea of what was going on. But yeah, it would be interesting to follow up… there are a lot of questions left.

Baseline Gambling Research a Foundation for Future Study

The alcohol-focused presentation’s findings came from research led by Horn and her colleagues at the Tennessee Institute of Gambling Education and Research (TIGER) at the University of Memphis.

Horn has worked as a researcher and clinician at TIGER, treating patients and undertaking research during her graduate studies. Currently, however, she’s completing an internship required to complete her doctorate in Asheville, North Carolina.

The institute has been around for over 20 years, building an international reputation for gambling disorder research. During that time, TIGER has provided treatment and conducted research through its linked divisions, The Gambling Clinic and The Gambling Lab.

Psychology professor Dr. James Whelan, Ph.D., who founded TIGER in 1999, is still at the helm today.

With Whelan, Horn embarked on a meta-analysis, the first of the trio of studies she presented at the UNLV conference.

The duo and Gregory T. Weil from The New School for Social Research in New York examined whether acute alcohol consumption increased risk-taking while gambling.

The results, published in the scientific journal Addiction in 2022, found no correlation between drinking alcohol and riskier gambling behavior.

Horn told Bonus those findings just led to more questions.

We had questions because we were sort of surprised that there wasn’t an effect of alcohol on gambling, at least not for those studies that were in it [the meta-analysis]. How did that happen? And that led us to wonder, ‘Well, is it because it’s a laboratory setting? Is it because it’s in some like space at a university?

TIGER set out to find out.

Combining Booze, Betting May Indicate Problem Not Cause

Building on the previous study, Horn, Whelan, and Abby McPhail (TIGER) turned their attention to whether drinking alcohol impacts gambling behavior outside the study atmosphere. To do that, they tasked 769 individuals who frequently gamble to self-report their drinking and gambling behaviors.

Results found no difference in the gambling behaviors of those who drank or abstained, findings consistent with the previous meta-analysis.

Interestingly, however, those who reported gambling under the influence were significantly more likely to drink and more often. Those participants were likelier to be at high risk for problem gambling than non-drinkers.

The study also found that general drinking behavior – such as the number of drinking days each month – helped predict time spent gambling.

These findings, taken together, failed to show acute alcohol consumption caused an increase in risk-taking or gambling problems. However, they do indicate drinking alcohol while gambling might point to issues with both alcohol and gambling.

Findings also suggest a likelihood that those seeking treatment for gambling or alcohol abuse may be more likely to report problems with the other. Plus, alcohol consumption while gambling may be indicative of gambling problems rather than a direct cause.

The study said further research is warranted to examine these two behaviors across gambling episodes.

Horn included a third study that is under review and not yet published.

However, it was that study’s examination of gamblers’ expectations of the effect drinking will have on their play that elicited gasps.

Horn was surprised at the reaction.

The audible gasp really threw me. But it also made me realize the weight of the work I have done. Or how important it might be to correct some misconceptions that we might have in the field about how alcohol use does or does not impact gambling. Because I think for a while, a lot of people just assumed that it does.

More Funding Needed to Study Gambling Harm

In the future, Horn expects research into alcohol and gambling to build on earlier foundations.

But she rattled off a list of questions worth examining:

  • How does winning or losing impact the desire to drink?
  • How does being in a casino affect the drinking urge versus gambling at home?
  • Does drinking behavior change when gambling alone or with others?

Currently, researchers at TIGER are completing studies looking at how cannabis and nicotine impact gambling behavior.

They also have a study about sports advertising on Twitter, examining whether the Twitter advertising algorithm was predatory. Notably, the study found it wasn’t. However, researchers gathered the data pre-Elon Musk Twitter, so the findings may no longer hold.

Still, Horn hopes these areas of research continue:

There aren’t very many funding opportunities for gambling relative to the other addictions like alcohol and tobacco use, or even opioid and cocaine…

We need more funding to do the research that is needed to figure out what treatments work best or what more is needed.

The other issue, she says, is that few people specialize in gambling treatment or research in the US. Until TIGER established a sister clinic in East Tennessee, Memphis was the only clinic in the state.

I would like to see funding increase. I would like to see more providers. More addiction providers educated on how to treat… more about problem gambling, more awareness.

Revenue from legalized gambling should help pay for it, too, Horn thinks:

There is a lot of revenue coming to various states from legalizing sports wagering specifically. It would be nice to see that funding distributed to researchers and clinicians alike, to support them in treating people with gambling problems. I don’t know how likely that is to come, but [it’s] something that I would like to see.

Academic Sources

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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